Thursday, April 30, 2009

We all do it

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

We all do it. We don’t mean to, but we do.

The audience and judges sneered when contestant Susan Boyle walked on stage on Britain's Got Talent. When she started to sing, the sneering quickly turned to awe. In the days that followed, discussions took place about how superficial we all were to laugh at her, since it turned out she possessed exceptional talent. The consensus seemed to be that, as Ms. Boyle was an extraordinary singer, it was wrong to snicker at her perceived lack of social graces and unglamorous appearance.

Hmmm…so, it’s OK to laugh at someone who looks different and who doesn’t possess exceptional talent?

A mother with a happy, smiling baby with Down Syndrome overhears other mothers talking in the park, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

A family with a child with Down Syndrome is less graced by God? Really?

On The Tonight Show, President Obama discussed his bowling score of 129 with some self-deprecating humor, "It was like Special Olympics or something."

I wonder….would this thoughtful leader have put himself down in jest by saying "Man, I bowl like a girl!" I doubt it; he knows in his heart one doesn’t put down another or even oneself, by calling someone “a girl.” And, if he slipped, Americans across the country would let him know that girls are not inferior beings.

An article in the May 2009 Diabetes Forecast focuses on the discrimination in employment against people with diabetes. It is an informative discussion about the necessity of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act and its protection of workers’ rights However, the author, almost in hushed tones, seems to need to make the point that people with diabetes aren’t really disabled. They just need the law to have a fair workplace.

What’s so terrible about having a disability, about being in that group? What’s so terrible about needing an accommodation to level the playing field, to do the essential functions of one’s job? The unemployment rate among people who are blind is 70%. Provide accommodation for insulin, snacks, and low blood sugar, but not provide text-to-read programs or Braille accommodations?

Why do we not want to be seen to be like others who are different? Can we not look a little harder to see that we share a common humanity?

Violence against children and adults with noticeable differences is much higher than against those without noticeable differences; it is prevalent in our neighborhoods, our schools, our homes. One Texas institution even ran a coordinated “fight club,” treating their clients like dog-fighting entertainment.

We, of course, don’t condone this violence, we may not even see its enormity. But we need to be aware of it. When people are beaten because of race, religion, or sexual orientation, it’s classified as a hate crime. Can we not demand that beating of people with disabilities be treated similarly?

Legislative opportunities to support our citizens with disabilities abound. The Community Choice Act would allow people the option to receive support services in the home. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes the essential human rights of all people. The convention has been open for signatures for more than two years, and 139 countries have signed, but not the United States.

Where are our priorities?

On this Blogging Against Disablism Day, I ask myself – where is my ableism? How do I reflect the deeply ingrained prejudices of my culture? Where am I an ableist in my individual actions? In my community actions?

I give you the same challenge. Ask the tough questions.

This post is part of a worldwide blogging phenomenon, Blogging Against Disablism Day. Be sure to head over to Diary of a Goldfish to read more perspectives on ableism/disablism. Thanks, Goldfish for your extraordinary efforts again this year.

Links: my BADD 2007 post and BADD 2008 post

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Our homes, not nursing homes"

Press release from ADAPT:

ADAPT Challenges HUD, Dems, McCain on Disability/Housing Economic Crisis

Washington, D.C.---ADAPT wasted no time challenging multiple policymakers on the housing crisis for persons with disabilities who have low and extremely low incomes. After setting up a tent city at HUD headquarters just after 4 a.m., ADAPT sent 100 activists to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) offices in Washington, D.C., and another hundred to a Sen. John McCain campaign office in Arlington, VA. All three entities were presented with the ADAPT platform for affordable, accessible housing.

"The DNC was cordial, and they accepted our housing platform, as well as our invitation to visit 'DUH City,' which is HUD spelled backwards," said octonagerian Barb Toomer, ADAPT organizer from Utah."The career HUD staff that met with ADAPT told our people they had no authority to make decisions and had to wait for the administration or administrative appointees to make any decisions, so the meeting felt like a waste of time. Sen. John McCain's campaign staff not only refused to even look at our housing platform, they had eleven of us arrested by police who caused injuries to at least one arrestee."

ADAPT's housing platform points to America's20longstanding and still growing crisis in the availability of affordable, accessible integrated housing. Many people with disabilities live on benefits that are only 18% of the median income, a full 25% below the poverty level, and an amount that is less than the national average rent for a studio/efficiency apartment.

"The federal government is sending stimulus payments to middle class workers, and is providing economic relief for the mortgage crisis, and maybe even the bank crisis," said Dawn Russell, Denver ADAPT. "What about all of us who live on fixed incomes? If we can't afford the cost of housing, we'll end up on the street or being forced into nursing homes and institutions. What are the federal government, Congress, and the presidential candidates going to do to help us with our housing crisis?"

In its platform, ADAPT is asking for:
· 5000 new housing vouchers per year for 10 years, targeted to people transitioning out of nursing homes and other institutions;
· Twice as much funding for the construction of new housing stock that is affordable, accessible and integrated;
· Policies and procedures to track the new vouchers to assure they remain targeted to people with disabilities when the original user becomes ineligible or no longer needs the voucher;
· People with disabilities who reside in institutional settings to be recognized as "homeless."

ADAPT's DUH City will remain in operation twenty four hours a day until Thursday, September 18. The DUH City Times will be delivered daily to every member of Congress, and there will be daily DUH TV coverage on You Tube. Background information, real stories of real people and photos can all be accessed at

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Telethons and Pity (Repost)

This is a reposting of last Labor Day Weekend's post on pity. the post is just as applicable this year, as is the blogswarm.

Today is Labor Day, and, to many people, that means it’s time for Jerry Lewis and the MDA Telethon. I had never watched the telethon, and this year I checked it out for the first time. I have to say, I didn’t watch much of it, and it was enough. I am not going to comment on the mission of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA); I am not familiar it. However, I would like to comment on the destructiveness of pity.

1. Pity fosters negativity. The negative aspects of the condition are emphasized and magnified, rather then the positive aspects and enormous potential of the individual's life. Instead of focusing on what a person can do by embracing all their strengths and gifts, pity limits a person.

2. Pity promotes the view of charity rather than the view of inclusion. Charity for pity divides people into 2 groups, the “haves” and the “have nots”. The premise is that the person who “has” will help the person who “does not have,” because the “haves” feel sorry for the “have nots”, rather than because it is the morally appropriate action to do. Unlike pity, inclusion encourages respectful dialogue to discuss ways to adapt to the obstacles of society.

3. Charity often seems focused on making those that contribute to the charity feel warm-and-fuzzy-good about themselves. That is the wrong focus. An action should be taken because it is the right thing to do, because it is fair and just.

4. Although often without consciously recognizing it, the person who is pitied usually has to conform in some way to the giver’s expectations and stereotypes to receive the charity. For example, in extracurricular activities in school, it seems to me that children with disabilities often have to participate in the sport or activity that has the most willing coach or advisor, rather than in the activity that the child likes the best or has a natural affinity for.

5. Pity lowers an individual’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about yourself, when you are seen as a drain and burden on others.

6. Pity towards people with disabilities gives society the false impression that disability and happiness cannot coexist. That isn’t necessarily true, and that simply serves to cause more pity.

7. Another problem with charity for pity is that it can give the impression that once the charitable act has been done, societal responsibilities are finished. A corporation that publicly writes a check to MDA is still obligated to provide an inclusive work environment with fair opportunities even though they likely won’t receive public recognition for those actions.

Check out Protest Pity, The Blog Against the Telethon, for an excellent collection of thought-provoking posts about the telethon from the point of view of people with disabilities.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Difference is an Artist's Game"

A beautiful video created by Clara Sigmon, a 13 yr old, about her brother David, who has Down syndrome. I found this video via Michelle who says, "it is very powerful and well-written/spoken." I agree! It's 4 minutes long, but well worth the time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

World Language Survey

Mobility International USA, the organization with whom I traveled to Costa Rica, is conducting a survey to determine how people with disabilities learn a foreign language.

"National surveys show U.S. high school students with disabilities, while increasing in the numbers enrolled in foreign language courses, still lag behind their non-disabled peers in the percentages who study foreign languages. U.S. students with and without disabilities are close to equal in the percentages completing foreign language courses at the higher education level. However, the data does not explain what languages are being studied, how successful the learning experience is, and what are the barriers and benefits for people with disabilities at all ages. Are you a person with a disability from theUnited States who is interested in taking a survey about foreign language learning and disability? The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange seeks your and other individuals with disabilities input and experiences.

Take a 10-minute Foreign Language survey online here:

I took the survey, and they ask questions about my language interests, how I study languages, and travel. It took about 5-10 minutes. Any help you can give MIUSA would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! For more info about the survey please go to MIUSA's newssite.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"People with intellectual disabilities deserve only one r-word: Respect"

Thanks, Ruth for sharing this beautiful video from The ARC of Virginia and The ARC of Northern Virginia. It sums up the issues well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thunderous Dehumanization

3 polar bears, one disintegrating from a broken heart with the words, Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but words will really hurt me

The R rated movie Tropic Thunder directed by Ben Stiller comes to theaters tomorrow. The film coins the phrase “full retard” to describe one of its characters.

Journalist Patricia Bauer prescreened the movie and shares some of her observations:

“Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, is presented as a fading action hero who earlier failed in his bid for Oscar glory while portraying Simple Jack, a character with an intellectual disability. Speedman’s portrayal of Simple Jack is featured as a movie within the movie.”
Bauer describes the stereotypical protrayal of a person with a cognitive disability,

“In character, Stiller speaks in a stilted, stuttering, adenoidal fashion, and wears overalls, bad false teeth and a classic institutional bowl haircut.”

Bauer tallies the number of times slurs are used in the movie and finds (approximately):

“Number of repetitions of the word “retard” or its variations: At least 16 in the “full retard” scene alone, not counting the uses of words like “idiot,” “moron,” “moronical,” “imbecile,” “stupid,” “dumb” and “the dumbest M*****F***** that ever lived.” All are used to describe the character of Simple Jack, who is described in an introductory segment as a “mentally impaired farm hand who can talk to animals.”

Number of repetitions of the word “nigger”: Once, said by a black character criticizing a character pretending to be black.

Number of uses of other racial/ethnic/sexual epithets: None observed.”

According to the New York Times a Dreamworks spokesperson says that the movie is a satire of the excesses of Hollywood. I’ve always been annoyed by the portrayal of persons with disabilities by temporarily able-bodied people in pursuit of Oscar or Emmy nominations, and I would truly love to see a film that satirizes the Hollywood portrayal of PWDs. However, I’m finding it hard to believe that Ben Stiller is really making a sophisticated societal satire in the vein of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Mr. Stiller’s past films, seem to have the common theme of going for crass and crude humor, although the joke is on the zipper mishap or fart or whatever, not on an entire group of people. And, it’s not like Dreamworks is advertising this movie as a societal satire. According to Bauer,

“Early promotion of the film described Simple Jack as a “retard” and an elaborate DreamWorks marketing website that was taken down this week in response to complaints carried the tagline ‘Once upon a time … There was a retard.’”

The Dreamwork website is not advertising Tropic Thunder as a societal satire, but rather quotes critics who call the movie a “knockout of a comedy” and “the funniest movie of the summer.” So, I forgive me, Mr. Stiller and Dreamworks. I’m not buying it. Your movie is not a critical satire of Hollywood’s portrayal of the full diversity of humankind. It is another movie that slurs and hurts a large segment of our population for the sake of a joke or two.

I know some people, like one of Bauer’s commenters, would say, “Get a sense of humor!” At the root of this point is the belief that cognitive diversity is not a part of humankind, and making fun of this “other” group is no big deal. And since when does one group get to tell another group that they cannot be offended by slurs, epithets, and derogatory stereotypes? Do whites get to tell blacks to not be offended by slurs? Do whites get to tell native peoples to not be offended by dancing Indian mascots? Do men get to tell women to not be offended by curse words or sexual innuendos?

I’ve written before about the pain the word “retard” causes. Like all outrageous and socially unacceptable racial and sexual slurs, this word inflicts deep pain. Dave Hingsburger over at Chewing the Fat writes a powerful letter to Mr. Stiller explaining how much it hurts to see and hear the R word.

“You hurt me a second time today, Mr. Stiller. I am writing to tell you, to hold you responsible. I arrived home and saw on a website that it is now possible to buy tee shirts with the phrase 'full retard' on it. You are responsible for this Mr. Stiller, you wrote those words, you chose those words, you went public with those words. It is you, and only you, who must bear the consequences for your actions.”

“Full retard” t shirts?! More satire, right?

Autistic has an on-point video about the power of words.

Addendum: Thanks to Ruth for this link to a statement of solidarity "recognizing the dignity of individuals with intellectual disabilities" and signed by many organizations including The Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society, and more. Check it out.
A 2nd Addendum: Checkout 2 stories on NPR. "If one group laughs at the expense of another, we don't call that humor, we call it humiliation," explains Leonard J. Davis, Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Illinois. And Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics explains why the r-word is hate speech.
Picture credit: Human Policy Press